Pilot (and only) issue of London Notes, an autonomist magazine from 1992.
PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest archive, Nottingham.
Pilot (and only) issue of London Notes, an autonomist magazine from 1992.
PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest archive, Nottingham.
LONDON NOTES is about...
London... metropolis, isolated subjectivities, police, repression, Docklands, enclosure of spaces, enclosure of life, the annoying lights of the West End, Bank, the City, a financial knot of global exploitation. London... demonstrations, riots, scattered moments of proletarian appropriation, squats, occupations, anti-fascism, anti-racism, widespread “fare dodging" on the tube. London... the territorial diffusion of proletarian antagonism, and at the same time the need to accelerate and catalyse the circulation of this antagonism through the diversities of the proletariat's experience.
Notes... fragments, bits and pieces, scattered leaps of subversive thought, drive toward coordination and organisation, in thought, in practice, in the material condition of our antagonism, of our organization. Notes... notes rooted in the certainty of our subversion and in the need for its socialisation. Notes... attempt to grasp the material conditions of our power; conditions now different from before. Notes... musical notes, carnevalesque dimension of the class struggle.
London Notes comes out essentially for two reasons. First, as the need of a group of comrades in the autonomist area, who come from different experiences, to make sense of the conditions of the class struggle at this time. Second, as a contribution to the acceleration and circulation of these struggles through the diffusion of international autonomist material.
We put emphasis on the condition of the class struggle as opposed to meaningless voluntaristic calls for "class struggle", so much, heard in many radical circles in Britain. We emphasise the condition of the class struggle at this time because we recognise the importance of the economic, social, and cultural transformations following capital's reaction to the waves of worldwide struggles of the 1960's and 1970's.
This editorial is not the place to interpret these transformations in an analytical sense. Too little space, which could result in a simplistic and dogmatic list of phenomena. Different interpretations, which we draw from the international arena of antagonist publications, will be offered in the pages of this magazine, in this number and - hopefully - in the numbers which will follow. For those who wish to debate, the debate is open.
These Notes are published in London by comrades involved in the antagonist movements of this metropolis. London therefore becomes the starting point of our reflection on the condition of the class struggle at this time. But the scattered character of the struggles, the weakness of the links among them, the stagnating circulation of our subversion and of the constituting elements of new social relations is a problem which touches the class antagonism at every level of the territorial and geographical organisation of capital's despotism. London Notes therefore is obviously not only about the class struggle in London.
A final note to be read as a disclaimer. London Notes is obviously not a party, nor an organisation with an official line. London Notes is just a magazine with a political soul. If we can define a common agreement among us it is this: we put emphasis on the autonomous grass-roots nature of the class struggle, and on the autonomous grass-roots struggles of each section of the working class (waged and unwaged), against any top-down imposition of a program in the name of the working class, and against any subordination of the needs of the marginalised sections of the working class.
We hope you may find this interesting. Grazie e buonanotte.
London May-June 1992
CLASS COMPOSITION AND AUTONOMY
Harry Cleaver on the LA Riots, from London Notes #1 1992.
Austin, Texas, May 1, 1992
We haven't had a May 1st like this in years. The massive upheavals shaking the United States, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, from Atlanta to New York, are more than protests against the "not guilty" verdict in the trial of the policemen who brutally beat Rodney King. The verdict touched off a rebellion whose energies spring from many sources. As rebellion spread, first flaming across Los Angeles and then exploding across the United States, the angry cry that has accompanied it "NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!" refers not only to the verdict but to life in America, especially life in the central cities during these last years of the Reagan-Bush administrations. "NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!" is an outcry of fed-up rebellion against systematically unjust state policies of slashing wages, welfare programmes and decent paying jobs. It is also an outcry against the flagrant racism of this last decade of economic repression and especially that of the Bush presidency born wrapped in the racist iconography of Willie Horton. The American "years of lead" have weighed most heavily on the people now in revolt. Their fires, it seems, are melting the lead, those years are over.
As in the Watts Rebellion of 1965, the anger boiling out into the streets has been expressed primarily in massive direct appropriation and the burning of almost two thousand buildings in Los Angeles. While mass media reports have tended to emphasise scattered incidents of brutality - such as a truck driver being dragged from his vehicle and beaten - the vast majority of actions have been directed against business property. Based on past experience, it is highly likely that the actual number of crimes against individuals has actually decreased during the rebellion.
As in the rebellions of the 1960's, reports and interviews have portrayed, mixed in with the anger, a carnivalesque atmosphere of community appropriation as thousands of citizens have collectively smashed down the glass and steel separating them from the things they need. This appropriation was systematic and spread well beyond South-Central L.A., where the rebellion began, into high-priced shopping malls and boutiques such as those of wealthy Beverley Hills.
All these "Riots", denounced by President Bush as an impermissible breakdown in law and order, have actually been creating new laws of distribution and a new kind of money-less order in which vast quantities of wealth are being, very quickly, transferred from the businesses which have, to those who do not. Beyond such direct appropriation, however, we must also see the political statement of the burnings: the demand for an end to the institutions of exploitation themselves. Sociologists may well label these rebellions, as they did those of the 1960's, "commodity riots" but we must also recognise that the rupture of the merchantile circuits of capitalist society is a political blow to its lifeblood.
THE LANGUAGE OF CLASS:
Riot = business governmental and media derogatory term for “popular rebellion”
Looting = business governmental and media derogatory term for “direct appropriation” or “proletarian shopping”
Vandalism = business governmental and media derogatory term for “wiping out the institutions of exploitation”
Law = euphemism for the rules of capitalist exploitation
Remarkable in the dynamics of the rebellions has been the failure of the forces of mediation. When the verdict came in on the night of Wednesday the 29th, every respectable "community leader" in Los Angeles, from black Mayor Bradley on down, strove to avert rebellion by channelling anger into manageable channels. Meetings in churches were organised, passionate gospel music was mixed with equally impassioned speeches of outrage - all designed to permit a powerless, cathartic venting of emotion. At the biggest meeting, covered by Network Television, the desperate Mayor went so far as to make an explicit plea for no action. Just as good business trade unions see their primary job as imposing contracts and maintaining labour peace, so did the good community leaders see theirs as the maintenance of "order". They failed.
Over and over again, such local leaders, city officials (including the notorious Chief of Police Gates) and the White House have tried to draw a line between a "lawless" few young thugs (the Willie Horton icon again) and the "law-abiding" majority of the community. But reports have made it clear that all kinds of people have been participating in the rebellion. Nor has this been a "black" rebellion, even though it began in a predominantly black neighborhood. Even the elite New York Times (1, May, 1992) has reported both of these phenomena, signalling to the ruling class the seriousness of the explosion:
"Some areas took on the atmosphere of a street party as black, white, Hispanic and Asian residents mingled to share in a carnival of looting. As the greatly outnumbered police looked on, people of all ages [and genders], some carrying small children, wandered in and out of stores and supermarkets with shopping bags and armloads of shoes, liquor, radios, groceries, wigs, auto parts, gumball machines and guns. Some stood patiently in line to take their turn."
Like the Brixton "Riots" in the early 1980's, this has been a multiracial community uprising. What some have called the "impossible class" and others "the tribe of moles" has coalesced and surfaced once again - against a police and against an economic system which have done their best to make their lives miserable.
A Riot in a Community
a Wildcat Strike in a Factory
Across the country, these scenes have been repeated on a smaller scale and have been supported by dozens of other kinds of demonstrations protesting against the injustice of the Rodney King verdict and articulating at least some of the outcries of the rebels. Here in Austin, capitol of the state of Texas and home to the University of Texas, high-tech electronic firms and a sizeable population of blacks and Mexican Americans, news of the uprising in Los Angeles also brought people spontaneously out of their homes and jobs and into the streets. Within hours, first at the downtown, central police station and then at the state capitol building, a cross-section of the city - of all colours and ethnic backgrounds - was speaking out angrily about the developing events. In both gatherings, chants of "NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!" echoed those of Los Angeles.
Everywhere people are meeting, discussing, arguing, debating and taking action as the struggle circulates across the nation. In school classrooms and in open areas to which they have marched, in elementary schools and universities, students are participating in this discussion and organizing for action. A week ago the nation watched as two natural earthquakes shook Northern California and wondered if "the big one" would be next ["The Big One" is the long-predicted large-scale earthquake which will cause massive destruction along the San Andreas fault in California]. Today a social earthquake in Southern California has sent shockwaves rippling across the continent, making us all wonder if the revolutionary "big one” is far off.
Robert Borg on the LA Riots, from London Notes #1, 1992.
Los Angeles. May 1992: $700 million of damage to property and businesses destroyed. 2,000 buildings under attack. A bill in excess of $12 million for police and fire fighters' overtime pay. 14,000 troops and national guard. 4,000 Marines. $780 million for insurance coverage. The main characteristic of the LA riots, as it was the case in the Watts riots in 1965, was proletarian shopping - direct appropriation of wealth in defiance of bourgeois law and police repression. This is only an impressionist picture of the politics of autonomy.
The recent wave of struggles in several American metropolises gives us the opportunity to think about "autonomy" and its meaning. Here a few "notes" on the subject.
First. The LA riots of 1992, as the Watts riots in 1965, as any example of mass as well as molecular (i.e. fare-dodging, squatting, etc.) forms of direct appropriation of wealth, constitute a rupture in the life-blood cycle of capital
Hundreds of people practising proletarian shopping and appropriating directly the means to satisfy their needs: from toilet paper to hi-fi sets. This represents a form of refusal of work, because it attacks directly the monopoly which capital holds over the means and which it uses in order to force us to work. In other words, proletarian shopping is the working class response to capital's enclosures, that is capital's confinement of our needs within the limits defined by capitalist work. In this sense, autonomy is autonomy of the working class with respect to capital.
Second. The outburst of class anger could not be preventively confined, subsumed, controlled by any organization. Church leaders attempted it, they failed. In this sense, autonomy has been expressed in relation to these organizations. The working class of the American metropolises has imposed its own programme on the street. In this sense, autonomy is autonomy of the working class with respect to the organizations which claim to represent it.
Third. The riots in LA and other American cities offer a clear example of development of patterns of grassroots self-organization. Capital circulation and capitalist coordination of work was replaced with circulation and coordination of struggles. The annoying and boring images of ulcerous yuppies walking around the streets of the Western metropolises with their portable phones talking about business and making capital circulate, was replaced by more carnivalesque and exciting scenes of youth coordinating operations on the battlefield. As one Guardian journalist reports:
"I watched children with mobile phones co-ordinate the movements of their gangs with the arrival of the police and fire trucks, warning looters when police were on their way."
Autonomy here is development of patterns of self-organization.
Fourth. The recent riots have shown once again the vulnerability of the capitalist social factory.
After the depressing 1980's in which capital was able to erect its monuments to the market, the fortresses of capitalist consumerism were finally stormed. The new shopping malls erected in recent years, as a symbol and expression of capital's power, have shown their strategic weakness. The architecture of the power of consumerism was turned upside down into an architecture of counter-power and re-appropriation. Again, Guardian:
"Strips of shops with giant parking lots in front, and the warehouses and fork lift trucks to the rear, proved so many honeypots to the looters, and too big for the overstretched police to control. At the vast FedCo store on La Cienaga, as the police fought their way through the traffic jam at the front, looting continued unrestrained from warehouses at the rear."
Autonomy in this sense is class rupture of the social factory and inversion of capital's instruments of power.
Fifth. The Watt riots in 1965 were confined in the ghetto. The main element of mobility was people's feet. Today, the rioters took the entire city and mobility was obtained through the car. Again, the gloomy picture of a capitalist city like Los Angeles with scarce public transport and jammed by millions of car trying to find their way to the parking places at work, was turned upside down by a different use of the car and a different meaning of mobility.
"Almost by definition, these shopping malls were outside the traditional ghetto areas. Magnet for the looters, and built close to the skein of freeways which thread the urban sprawls, they gave the riots an extraordinary mobility and geographical spread."
Autonomy in this sense is class inversion of capital's meaning of circulation and mobility as circulation of struggles.
Thus far the inversion, the anger, the rupture. The celebration of the LA riots is also the celebration of all this. But there is something missing, or at least a bit shadowed, in our representation of autonomy, something that the bourgeois press could only hint at. I am talking about the possibility and the extent to which a constitutive project of new social relations beyond those imposed by capitalism could spring out as a moment of these recent struggles. This depends mainly on two things. First, on the patterns and the forms of self-organization that have developed out of the riots. Unfortunately, at this time we know almost nothing about this. Second, on the degree in which these struggles circulate both in the USA and internationally. It is perhaps too early to evaluate this. We need I think to keep our eyes open, and be ready to grasp the political contents of this "movement from below", in terms of needs which have been put forward in the struggle and which can serve as common ground for the politicization of needs at the international level.
Article from London Notes #1 1992
We translate and publish here an article/leaflet recently circulated in the European Counter Network. It deals with women's position within the capitalist relation of work as (re)producers of the most important commodity, that is labour power. It deals with the recent strategies outlined by international agencies and private corporations to control and plan the quality and the quantity of this commodity, through the control of women's bodies and their sexuality. It appeals for the circulation of political analysis on this subject and of struggles against these strategies.
One of the central aspects of imperialism in the new world order is the demographic control of population. The image of a globe full of starving masses in the Southern Hemisphere was one of the first concepts we were taught at school. The main reason for their so-called underdevelopment was the mythical 'over-population' of their living space. To explain this false interpretation, which hides the oppression of one class by another, of one sex by the other, of one region by another, it is said that the present enormous demographic growth jeopardises the material and natural needs for our existence, as natural resources are not enough for the survival of humanity.
In reality, since colonial times the products of the Third World were destined for the industrialised countries, which have monopolised most human resources and land. On the other hand, it is a fact that people starve in Bolivia with six inhabitants per square km, in India with 238 inhabitants per square km, but not in Holland with 356 inhabitants per square km, nor in Japan with 321 inhabitants per square km. In fact, the reasons for demographic control are of a political, social, and economic character: by regulating demographic fluctuation in relation to the needs of social and political control, to prevent riots, revolutions, and through the industrial production of human resources in relation to the needs of capitalism.
This is nothing new, Since the Second World War the US has imposed new policies of demographic control on the Third World by forming private organisations for birth control: for example, the IDA (International Development Agency, formed in the 1970's and directly managed by the ministry of foreign affairs) whose function was to develop a plan for demographic control to impose on Third World countries as a condition for obtaining economic aid. As a result, thousands of women have been forced to be sterilised or to use dangerous contraceptives. Some examples: 40% of Puerto Rican women have been sterilised. In Mexico between 1978 and 1984 one and a half million women were sterilised. 70% of women who gave birth by caesarean were sterilised. The sterilisation happens without the women's awareness or sometimes in exchange for a bus trip, blankets, food, etc. In Brazil the Association for Family Welfare inserted the coil in women with the thread cut off, so that it was impossible to remove it. At least 7.5 million women were forcibly sterilised in this way.
We could go on forever. In this massacre of women's bodies an important role has been played by the pharmaceutical multinationals which produce contraceptive methods whose dangerous side effects are directly tested on women. The Capital Norplan Capronor, chemical hormone bombs in silicon capsules, which are released in the body over a period of five to six years, were given in Brazil to adolescent, pregnant women, who were breast feeding, without them being properly informed.
Nowadays it is the World Bank, the IMF, the WHO, International Planned Parenthood and the USA, together with other private organizations, such as the Ford-Rockefeller Foundation, that are realising the plan for population control in the Third World. A current example is Project 2020, developed in the USA for Puerto Rico with the aim of reducing the population from 4 million to 1.5 million people. In particular, the interior of the country would be completely uninhabited to leave space for industrial sites and 17 high-tech military bases which would not require human labour. The United Europe of 1993 is already developing programs of research in the field of genetic technology like Project Eureka, by entering the market and building research/experimentation centres, some of which are already in operation. In Holland, for example, TNO, a major centre for scientific research, is in possession of equipment which is capable of determining everyone's genetic identity, everyone's proneness to disease and their resistance to environmental factors. In Russia and in the USA the people who are employed in certain noxious factories are tested to determine their resistance to and tolerance of toxic substances with which they will come into contact at work.
THE ROLE ASSIGNED TO WOMEN WITHIN THESE POLICIES IS TO PRODUCE THE HUMAN RESOURCES FOR PRODUCTION' WHICH MUST BE CONTROLLED AND PLANNED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE NEEDS OF CAPITAL. OUR BODIES ARE ORGANS, OUR SEXUALITY BECOMES THE OBJECT OF THIS PRODUCTION, TO BE USED AND MANIPULATED.
Today, within the imperialist project a fundamental role is represented by the development of the bio-technology sector and genetic engineering, The 'Gemona Project', or ‘Genetic Passport', is probably the most ambitious project. Its aim is to select population discriminatively by determining individual identities, by controlling hereditary deviations, proneness to disease and resistance to environmental factors. This technology is used, certainly not for humanitarian reasons but as a continually developing tool of patriarchal power over women.
What better tools to limit, diminish, or render completely impossible the reproduction by women of undesirable groups than the control of black women, immigrant women, disabled women, and lesbians; or on the other hand, to encourage and/or to make possible the birth of children to women of 'desirable' population groups, for example in Europe through sperm banks, artificial insemination, and surrogate motherhood (the rented uterus often belongs to women from the Third World)?
While forced sterilisation is the practice in the Third World, in the developed world the aim is to increase the birth rate, within a perspective where racism and the selection of the species are the criteria that determine who will or will not have children. Basically a sort of 'racial selection' which will constitute the future society in accordance with the rules of the New World Order' of which racism, exploitation, sexism, and barbarism are fundamental. How else do we explain the actions and racist attacks in Germany and all over Europe, if not as a sort of raid 'for racial hygiene' in the model of the eugenics movement, introduced into the Third World from the Third Reich, which also conducted mass sterilisation campaigns, and the USA?
The selective production of human resources has become a fundamental element for the development of capitalism. Women's bodies are the means for this production which must be controlled and planned. In this context patriarchal power over women and the division between sexes continues to be important for the stability of the capitalist economic system.
We antagonist women want to develop analysis and discussion on these issues, to single out objectives and initiatives which attack these policies. The anti-imperialist struggles against patriarchy, sexism, and racism, and for self-determination over our own bodies and our existence, must become part of all antagonist movements. Let's start by boycotting all those organisations, companies and multinationals which are involved: SHELL, BP, STANDARD OIL IMPERIAL CHEMICAL COMPANY, GENERAL ELECTRONIC COMPANY, DUPONT, IMCC, NIKEL CONCERN, CIBA GEIGY, BOEHRINGER, HOFFMAN LA ROCHE, HOECHST, BAYER, BASF, SCHERING, FIDIA…
An autonomist analysis of immigration in and around Italy in from 1950s-1990s.
Article from London Notes #1 1992, translated from an article by Comitato Senza Frontiere (Without Frontiers Committee), Via Avesella 5b, Bologna, Italy, dated 28 May 1991 and published in Incompatibili (the magazine of the self-organized workers of Rome), #6 Summer 1991.
We present here an article which was originally published in Incompatibili, an Italian autonomist magazine, as an initial contribution for a class analysis of the current massive flow of migrants from the South of the world into - especially - continental Europe. The immediate political importance of this phenomenon is obvious, given the racist campaigns being mounted across Europe, the growth of fascist organizations, and the repatriation policies being supported by the various European governments.
A class position on migration and against racist strategies of division of the working class cannot rely only on militant anti-racist action and a political denunciation of racist attacks. This is good and necessary political work, but it is not enough. We need a class analysis which goes deeper into the issue of migration in order to grasp the relation between contemporary migratory flows and the present transformations of the productive system in the North. To what extent are these phenomena interrelated? How is the internal hierarchy of the working class affected? What are the new qualitative forms (not only in terms of income difference, but also in terms of forms of work) developing within this hierarchy? Which sets of needs might we expect to burst out in the form of new movement and new struggles? It is only within this analytical framework that we can and must begin to express new forms for the political organization of the class antagonism, for the politicisation of needs.
The article which we publish here does not give any definitive answer to these questions. But it indicates a direction for analysis. The strength of this article is one of method, in its most political sense. It uses as the background to its analysis of the migratory flows the relation between class composition and the form (and content) of struggle. In this way, "struggle" - that is, the movement of class subjectivity - is not interpreted as a mere voluntaristic process, but is grounded in its own historical and material condition.
A given class composition represents the particular form in which the working class finds itself scattered around within the capitalist production process, both inside and outside (the territory) the factory. In this sense, it corresponds to a certain form of productive cooperation among workers - a certain set of relations existing between them. In general terms, within the framework of this analysis the political leap comes about when the working class transforms the material condition which constitute the basis for capitalist organization of production into the material basis for its own power. With this "political recomposition" of the working class, struggle and resistance circulate among different sectors; the daily diffusion of antagonism and the latent process of constitution based on needs acquire a new qualitative political dimension; working-class needs explode and assert themselves both in antagonism and as constitutive of new social relations which go beyond capitalism.
The key political issue underlying this article is therefore the following: what is the material foundation of a new phase of political recomposition of the working class? It does this by focusing on the migratory flows in Italy and, to a less extent, in continental Europe. It focuses its analysis on a new subject carrier of new needs, the migrant-as-subject. It is only on the basis of these needs that the subject-migrant can reconstitute itself as political subject. The struggles of this subject and their circulation across other sectors of the working class is the central pivot of this analysis.
The article was written with the Italian reader in mind and therefore refers to the present forms of migratory flows in that country. Here is not the place to extend the analysis to Britain, but a few observations can be made. Unlike Italy, Britain has a long history of immigration. Therefore, the new migrants find an already established hierarchy of "race" and a network of communities already more or less structured within the social and productive fabric. How the flow of recent and future migration will effect this structure is an open question - as is the question of the effect of their struggles - which will depend on, among other things, the quantitative dimension of the migratory flows.
Capitalism and Migratory Flows
At the basis of the wealth produced in every epoch of capitalist society, there is the experience of the migration of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. This means dramatic movements, up-rooting from their original communities, poverty and exploitation which repeat themselves each time capital plans a massive effort in the restructuring of production and the labour market.
During the last two centuries the phenomenon of migration has grown without precedent. This has involved both forced and voluntary emigration, the flows of which initially concerned mainly Europe, at least up to the Second World War, and have covered all five continents. Forty million Europeans migrated to the Americas between 1800 and 1930, among whom 9 million were Italians. In the same period, tens of millions started to move due to the effects of regional and world wars, and of colonialism in China, South East Asia, Africa, the Middle East ...
Ever since "primitive accumulation", migratory movement has been essential for the valorisation of capital: the most precious commodity - labour power - arriving from different continents, has from time to time the function of breaking up the rigidity of the work and wage of the national working-class, i.e. more work and less wages! But the new working class composition has started once again to organise itself, to refuse exploitation and the models of behaviour imposed by integration and segregation. Thus, by reaffirming its right to exist and not to be treated as a mere thing, the class composition re-emerges with all its unrestrainable drive for subversion and transformation and the political struggle between capital and labour affirms itself in this rupture. From a mere objective variable of the cycle, the class composition imposes itself as conscious, antagonist subjectivity.
Since the end of the Second World War, there have been two major migratory cycles which correspond to two cycles of production and to two class compositions: the mass worker and the social worker. The first was the protagonist of the 1950-70 era of struggles, the second continues to establish itself through a multiplicity of subjects, following the rhythms of the restructuring begun at the beginning of the 1970's which ended with the information technology "revolution". Both the mass worker and the social worker are mostly immigrated labour power. In the following pages, the genesis of these two figures will be synthetically reconstructed, showing their underlying characteristics and diversities, their balances and perspectives.
Turkish, Algerian and Italian Workers in North Europe
In the 1950's and 1960's millions of immigrants were utilised in France, Germany and England, for post-war reconstruction due to a considerable lack of internal labour power. The South of Italy became the reservoir of labour power in Europe. In the first half of the 1950's the most important migratory flow was that of those expelled from the eastern territories of the Reich, and of the refugees of East Germany who settled in the Federal Republic. This was labour power highly skilled and to constitute the basis of German development, political consensus and stability. This labour power was also to play a crucial role in the control of the new labour power that was later to pour into German factories in successive waves.
North-Central Europe therefore functioned as a pole of attraction for unskilled labour power, to be used on the assembly line: millions came from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece. Yugoslavia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. By the end of the 1960's, foreign immigrants were more than 3.2 million in France (6.4% of the total population); 3 million in FRG (4.8% of the population); 2.6% in Britain (5% of the population); 1 million in Switzerland (16% of the population) [see Castles & Kosak, Immigration and Class Structure in Western Europe, Milan. Angell, 1984]
As far as Italy is concerned, the migratory flow follows a double track: one addressed to the internal market, from the South to the North; the other addressed to the external market with an exodus of almost 7 million expatriates between 1946 and 1970, resulting in a migratory balance of 3 million people. There is an aspect which it is necessary to point out: in this phase, both international migration towards northern Europe and the South-North internal migration appear to be motivated by a strong demand for labour, to the point that unemployment among immigrants was almost unknown. Today's situation is instead very different: the immigration of the 1980's, which also affects Italy, finds itself in a different condition with respect to the possibility of employment. From this point of view, the motivations at the basis of present-day immigration can, and to a certain extent, must be necessarily different.
In the 1950's and 1960's, the mass worker not only made up for the insufficient internal labour supply, but was also useful for the satisfaction of the needs of the labour market which were induced by the transformation of the productive apparatus itself. The resort to the use of foreign workers and in Italy to the labour power of the southern and north-eastern parts of the country - facilitated the development of determinate activities, allowing for the easy and rapid mobilisation of a new, abundant and not particularly skilled industrial labour force.
In other words, there was a passage from the organisation of work centred on the craft worker (who was in possession of the technical knowledge of the productive cycle which was used against factory management) to the organization of the assembly line based on the mass worker. This passage was possible through the injection into the productive cycle of this mass of unskilled immigrant workers.
Secondly, capital could take advantage of the cultural, existential and political divisions between the two working-class compositions. One unionised, often communist, tied to the work ethic, to reformism. The other with an atavistic hatred for the state and alienated work, often considering the unions as their opponents.
Thirdly, capital was able to obtain notable advantages from a mobile and flexible labour force.
"The migration of the 1950's and 1960's was composed of workers who were employed for a limited period. The migratory process conformed to the model of alternating migrations, so-called because there was a high turnover both in workers and in workplaces: the project for most of them was to work for a limited period of time...the average stay was between two and five years." ("Community orientations and the politics of immigration in Italy and Europe". Degree thesis, 1989-90, p. 49)
It is interesting to notice how this immigrant composition seemed to be anchored initially to the system of production without major conflicts:
"the immigrants as a matter of fact do not appear to want to settle, they do not look for integration, neither do they aspire to obtain citizenship; they are prepared to accept temporary housing and their express needs are very limited...the system by which the countries try to control the phenomenon is that of 'guest workers'." (Thesis, p.51)
However, things did not go as expected. The 1968-69 wave of struggles broke out. The policies of the various states to repatriate "guest workers" to their country of origin failed.
"The closing of the frontiers did not have the hoped-for consequences of making foreign workers leave, or at least of not letting them enter, but had exactly the opposite effect of not letting them leave or of making them reconsider their migratory plans in a radical way" (Thesis. p. 53).
The Struggles of the Mass Worker
From the beginning of the 1960's the immigrant workforce was increasingly employed in the core sectors of the economy. Moving from services and construction work, the foreign workforce became more and more massively present in the heart of capitalist production: in engineering, electronics and in the chemical industries. This process delivered the immediate production of the wealth of the advanced capitalist countries of Europe into the hands of immigrant workers. This naturally led to a complete contradiction with the living conditions of immigrants: lack of housing, ghettoes, mass redundancies, attacks against the combative workers, strongly discriminative EEC legislation against non-EEC workers and so on. This became less and less acceptable and led to an increasing element of cohesion and collective identity.
With the coming of 1968, the capitalist post-war plan was over.
Developments founded on mobility and low wages were finished. Political consensus for reformism broke down. But above all the mass worker became a recompositive figure in relation to the national workforce, the students and in general with the social whole. The struggles came out of factories on wages and work conditions, but then they switched to a broader terrain.
"The struggles were not only aimed at the organisation of work in the factory but more generally they hit social organisation as a whole. The attack was directed against capitalist wealth. The process which had been ignited was that of a chain reaction of struggles and of their contents which were seen in the years after 1968-69.
This process increasingly involved the national working classes of Europe putting every reformist project into crisis, in the sense that it badly shook up the social democratic framework. In the first place, this happened through the breakdown of trade union control which had been one of the main pillars of that (social democratic equilibrium)." (From: A. Serafini (ed), The Multinational Worker in Europe, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1974, p. 17).
It was in this context that the capitalist crisis came into being, interrupting the mechanism of profit which seemed to have had an exponential growth since the immediate post-war period, and turned it into its opposite: the fall of the rate of exploitation, the loss of disciplinary control in the factory and in society in general, the political opposition of a subjectivity which did not leave any room for manoeuvre for the trade unions or the parties, but rather pushed them to the very edge of massive increases in social spending. Only technological restructuring and the expulsion of workers from factories, the modification of the capitalist organization of work based on automation and the substitution of living labour, the transfer of complete traditional sectors to the South of the world, and the widening of world markets, could eliminate the problem at its roots. But not without a crucial contribution from the state, consisting of a profound and extensive process of repression and social militarisation.
The 1980's. Between Crisis and Restructuring: the Socialised Worker.
It in this context that the crisis began, with its respective processes of the restructuring of production on a world scale and of the new market of international labour. The crisis of accumulation caused by the struggles of the mass worker, the shock of the oil crisis, the end of the Bretton Woods agreements (the end of the convertibility of the dollar into gold) are all at the root of the restructuring which is still under way. The big factory is no longer at the centre of the political reproduction of the social. The decentralisation of production and the transfer of entire cycles of production to the countries of the South, along with the creation of an information technology-based tertiary sector, have produced a new kind of class composition, employed in every corner of society, which has become productive in its every expression and activity.
The globalisation of markets and the internationalisation of the labour market, the real subsumption of every job in the movement of capital, the massive introduction of automation within systems for the production of commodities, has required a much more mobile and flexible workforce, precarious and without ties, whose upper sectors are as willing to go through continuous re-training as its lower sectors are to work at an ever-increasing pace in the "informal economy". in terrible conditions in unskilled, manual activities.
This new system of production, therefore, needs an immigrant "socialized worker", also in those Mediterranean countries like Italy whose turn it is now to receive international immigration. The jobs available are those in small and medium scale industrial enterprises, not yet touched by technological restructuring, in the cooperative and traditional tertiary sectors and in agriculture.
The new immigration comes from North and sub-Saharan Africa, from the Far East and from Albania. What are the fundamental causes? First of all, the "demographic explosion" in the South of the world. The developing countries have a population increase rate of 2.3% per annum against 0.9% for the advanced developed countries. For every 100 people born, 86 come from the developing countries and only 14 from the developed world. The working population (aged 15 to 64) has grown two and a half times faster in the developing countries than in the developed. A second factor has been the rapid collapse of economic growth, also due to the failure of the regional development plans of the World Bank and other international organisations. More generally, the rigid conditions put forward by the IMF and the World Bank have demanded privatisation programmes, cuts in service industry spending and redundancies. The fall of real "socialism" and regional wars make up some of the other causes both of current and of future immigration. Also in this case we are talking about the immigration, almost on a biblical scale, of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people.
The composition of immigration in the Eighties and Nineties is particularly different from that of the preceding 20 years. The points of cultural and political reference are changing regarding the workplace of the "socialised worker", as are the productive characteristics of the social model which no longer revolve around the big factory but rather the information technology (IT) tertiary sector, automated firms and telematic service industries.
The new immigrants take their chances in the big metropolitan centres of the West, attracted by wealth, by consumption, by cultural models, without being put off by the effective demand for labour. The first characteristic of these young male and female workers is their "wanderlust". Often they do not immediately stop in one country or city but circulate, building up an important collection of experiences, motivations, needs and demands.
More than work, their first needs are housing, services and rights. Between the cracks of society work can be found, even if it is unskilled, precarious and to be abandoned as soon as possible in order then to move on or establish themselves in employment in some small or medium-sized industry. But housing remains the main problem.
"Growing expectations" and "anticipatory socialisation" are among the terms used by sociologists to point to the acquisition, already at the point of departure, of the values and orientations of the society into which they will insert themselves. In other words, the unit of measurement chosen by these immigrants is the wealth they want to consume (the same that the West robbed from their countries of origin), rather than the effective possibilities given by work.
Foreign immigration began relatively late in Italy and has yet to reach the dimension of other countries. There are at least two million workers from outside the EEC, only a part of whom are regularised (700,000). The other two thirds are concentrated in urban areas and slightly less than half gravitate towards the three main cities: Rome, Milan and Naples.
The "socialised worker" is a class composition still mostly to be analysed, not least for the fact that the immigrant component tends to be increasingly representative within it. IT and telematic jobs, the new "professions", constitute the upper, skilled sector, the nucleus on which the present effort to globalise the economy is based. This globalised economy has entered a phase in which everything is money and where the immaterial commodity and the information commodity are strategic for the valorisation of capital.
There is, however, a second, traditional, tertiary sector - the circuit of small and medium industries, the network of cooperatives, all of which are quite developed productive realities in Italy, requiring another type of worker, another "socialised worker": mobile, flexible, unskilled, low-paid, used to the work rhythms of the "informal economy". Naturally, along with the lowest sections of the internal workforce, this labour market is covered by immigrants. "They do the jobs Italians don't want to do any more." Let's list them: cleaners, dishwashers, window cleaners, car washers, petrol pump attendants, night watchmen, day labourers, porters. Or otherwise in the smallest firms of the rich provincial economic hinterland, so flourishing in parts of Italy (Emilia, Tuscany).
They are Arabs, Moroccans, Tunisians, Eritreans, Filipinos, Pakistanis, Senegalese and Nigerians. Certainly, a substantial number of these immigrants either settle down or tend to do so, giving up their "wanderlust", often wanting their families to join them, and looking for some stability in the workplace too. But the "central" characteristic seems to be another. The African immigration coming from south of the Sahara seems, at the moment, to be emblematic. Spreading recently to all the big and medium-sized cities (Bologna, Milan, Turin and Florence), it is mostly made up of young males who move around from one city to another or even from one country to another, without precise migratory plans. They come from countries in a deep crisis, from every point of view, `economic, political, social and cultural', and it makes little sense to enquire if they are here for economic or political reasons or if they are thinking of staying here, of returning home or of going to other countries. They themselves do not know because they live from day to day, content to get by in some way with "black market" or precarious jobs, with ways and means on the margins of legality..." (quote from Inchiesta, October-December 1990, p. 35). [unclear from the original text where the quote starts – Libcom]
There is an important consideration to be made. Sociological research and statistics, rather than analysing the phenomenon in itself, often tend to conceal it, to interpret it as the expression of "someone different" and therefore intrinsically dangerous, to be controlled and ghettoised. The nomadism of this class composition is used as an excuse to paint a picture of the "ruthless immigrant", without values, easy prey to criminality, and so racism is spread in all its forms. Only a serious worker's enquiry on flows, expectations, motivations etc, which is carried out by the immigrants, by comrades, in the knowledge of using it as a ready instrument useful for an effective socialisation and cohesion between various subjectivities can really explain the characteristics of this metropolitan worker. And not only this; also her/his hard-driving demand for self-organisation and utopias.
In this first scrutiny we can say that at the root of this nomadism there are two issues:
1) the lack of housing;
2) alienated and super-exploited work.
As far as immigrants succeed in organising themselves around these two issues they will effectively have choices, such as establishing themselves in one place or moving around and coming into contact with new metropolitan spaces.
The struggles on housing which have been carried out in these last few months in the main cities are the embryonic movement for the identification of participation not only by immigrants but also by comrades. Wherever a process for the participation not only by immigrants but also by comrades, wherever a process for the quality of life comes together, new sedimentation take place and new prospects are opened. When the struggle is the place for the identification of subjectivities, mobility acquires a power which shifts the relations of strength towards the subalternate classes, constituting a wealth and a source of reproduction and contagion. The problem, therefore, is to turn the characteristic of the "social worker's" class composition against capital and its command, to consolidate at the highest point of contradiction the radicalities which it expresses, from the points of view of both production and reproduction. The computerised society is fragile, much more so than that of the past. It is enough to jam its points of command to put it into crisis. A radical critique of the organisation of work, a wave of workers' struggles for wage increases and less hours, for the reappropriation of time as the reappropriation of life and of the sources of culture expropriated by the factory of ideologies, are the basis for the reconstruction, both at the local and international levels, of a social and political opposition to capital.
It needs to be said that struggles only in the sphere of reproduction, in the service industries, are no longer sufficient by themselves. We need to make the leap. Political re-composition cannot happen unless contestation and criticism are activated, also against the organisation of work as far as production is concerned, whether they be linked to the subalternity of the worker to the machine or to cycles where the assembly line and manual work are still predominant.
The immigrant worker alone is not a recompositive figure. There is a need for a scheme of subjectivities, representing the advanced social and political expression of a rich scenario of subjects, diverse in language. culture and imagery, but brought together by their hatred for capital's command and by the creativity and potential inherent in their class composition.
And the means for these metropolitan subjects, atomised by central power, to get in contact with each other is the value of the use of antagonist communication, which creates the basis for a real multi-ethnic, multi-racial society, for a new metropolitan culture with new values - not money but solidarity, not individualism but the community, not the market but social cooperation.
The mass worker destroyed a way of producing and once more made central the ideas of subversion and self-organisation, sweeping away the old ideologies of power and inaugurating a cultural and political movement whose effects are still present today in the social body.
The "socialised worker" has yet to follow that path, if in a completely different historical context, with even greater difficulties ahead. But there is one thing s/he can take advantage of: the fragility of the social system and its relative immune defences, exactly at the moment when the international framework of command is restructuring itself in a blind struggle between the major-power winners of the Cold War. The new "world order" that is currently shaping itself, could already be weakened at birth if the worldwide "social worker" creates her/his means of identity, becoming visible at last.
Translated from an article by Comitato Senza Frontiere (Without Frontiers Committee), Via Avesella 5b, Bologna, Italy, dated 28 May 1991 and published in Incompatibili (the magazine of the self-organized workers of Rome), #6 Summer 1991.
A short article from London Notes #1 1992
About needs, and struggles, and squatting, and immigrant, and circulation of struggles
We report here the text of the leaflet used for the discussion meeting with a comrade from Bologna last March in London
Examples of recent struggles taking real and immediate needs as their starting points
Immigration, as opposed to internal migration, is a recent phenomenon in Italy, unlike other European countries where it has been happening for decades. Thousands of immigrants have arrived in the main Italian cities in the space of the past years.
The situation which came about has been "explosive" right from the start and the problem of housing became the first area of unity between Italian and immigrant proletarians.
The self-organised squatted social centres have had a central role in the initiation and development of immigrants' struggles. Together they have gone on to use various forms of direct action; above all the mass squatting of housing. In Italy, the first squatted social centres were set up in the late seventies and gradually this practice spread throughout the national territory. The social centres were created and spread as places for people to get together politically and socially and to experiment in being separate and autonomous from institutions. The presence of the social centres immediately highlighted the property speculation going on in working class districts. They opposed the commercialisation of creativity through the self-production of music, videos, etc. They are therefore one response among many to the real need for the self-organisation of spaces and the reappropriation of time as reappropriation of life, refusing (although there are unfortunate exceptions) to become ghettoes or pseudo-"alternative" spaces separated from their locality.
It has been exactly this refusal to self-ghettoise themselves, that has allowed and still allows the social centres to be continually present within the territory, in the struggles against heroin pushers in working class estates, in anti-fascist and anti-racist struggles, in the struggles for the defence of squats and so on. This is the only way to practise real politics, the only way "that pays". It is therefore necessary to continue along the path of direct action and politicalisation of needs, to ground our political activity directly on our real proletarian needs.
An overview of the history of squatting in the UK and associated struggles, from London Notes #1 1992.
The threat to make squatting illegal has once again reared its ugly head. That the threat is hardly new and that the "discussion" paper put out by the government shows above all an almost total ignorance of their own laws, are hardly reassuring in today's climate where laws are passed in a matter of weeks, with the details decided by decree if necessary.
More immediately, illegal evictions by councils and vicious raids by the cops make the law practically irrelevant. The following notes have been written to try and trace the development of squatting, within the general development of working class appropriation of housing, as well as the forms used to control and break it. The aim is to try to discover tactics to fight current attacks and to renew appropriation on a level suitable to present conditions.
Post - World War One
1920 saw a massive increase in social provision and policy on housing, with the introduction of the National Housing Scheme and Housing Bonds, direct building labour under council control, a new Rent Act and a ban on all commercial building in London to free resources for housing. New towns were built both by councils (e.g. Dagenham) and by private capital (e.g. Welwyn Garden City) and high-rise housing was rejected on health grounds. This intervention was due in part to a general lack of private investment in housing, brought about by the massive rent strikes during the war which had stopped landlord profiteering and turned large areas of working class communities into no-go areas for rent collectors and bailiffs, as well as the overall demands and combed of the class.
Returning from the bloody front or with experience of struggles at home, with the inspiring news from Russia and the promise of a "Land Fit For Heroes", workers' demands and struggles spread rapidly. While strikes raged, with even clergymen planning to set up a union, unemployment rose with thousands marching to the door of Number 10 and the Irish brought the war to England ... according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer no issue was causing more unrest than the lack of housing. Direct struggle over housing seems to have been minimal in 1920, with only an empty refugee camp in County Durham occupied by homeless families and the continued effects of the rent strikes. But the relationship between housing and the combativity of the class were made clear by the developers of Welwyn Garden City, who called for "enlightened" investment for
“this scheme of bringing the workers under healthy conditions near their work as one of the means of dealing with the problem of industrial unrest".
Of course not all workers would be moved out to nice, new suburbs - the point was also to break up the class concentration in the cities.
Post - World War Two
After WWII the scarcity of homes for the working class (caused by bombing, by the direction of labour and materials to the war effort and by homes being kept empty, waiting for rich tenants) led to the first modern squatting movement. All over the country empty barracks and other camps were taken over by homeless families who organised and ran them collectively. The movement spread while the authorities were unclear how to respond and though they were eventually clamped down, some camps remained occupied for some time until the families were rehoused.
The authorities immediately clamped down, however, when families, with the help of the Communist Party, started moving into empty flats in the West End of London. As well as a lack of housing, this movement indicated a development in demands, as many of the young families involved would previously have considered it natural to live with their parents until they could find their own housing. As well as winning rehousing for those involved, the movement won increased provision for social housing, including the right of councils to lake over empty properties.
The Sixties and Seventies
The Sixties and Seventies saw struggles extend the area of social housing, both in terms of the amount of housing outside the market and the groups with access to it. New council housing continued to be built, while the run down of the inner cities pressured some councils into buying up larger and larger stocks of properties left empty by speculators or in conditions below those required by increasing legal standards.
On the other hand, black communities fought against residential qualifications that excluded them from council waiting lists, women fought for the right to rehousing to escape violent husbands and refuges were set up. Lesbians and gay men struggled for the right to council housing as they were discriminated against in the market. The squatting movement re-emerged mainly in response to families being kept waiting on council lists, while council properties remained empty and often while waiting for demolition as part of grandiose development plans that never took place. Many of those involved in the movement, however, were young and single and they soon realised that squatting was a way of meeting their own housing needs, of escaping homelessness, parents and bed-sits, of living together and creating their own environments. The squatting movement also highlighted and fought against excessive rents, speculation and the building of ever more office blocks, as well as helping those still fighting for access to council homes.
Some squatters managed to get licences to stay temporarily until the council could use the property and often set up co-ops to run them. As the number of council properties started to outstrip the resources needed to bring them into use, and as the numbers eligible outgrew the number of properties, councils tried to work out priorities. Both squatting and the buying of keys were used to refuse this exclusion and new resources were always needed to house those with priority. To some extent this worked against those who had the most recent access to housing lists, as the children of council tenants or people with friends on estates were the most likely to get into the more attractive housing.
The growth of the council housing sector ended in 1979 and by 1986 had been reduced by 10% - 700,000 homes. The Tory government has increasingly restricted resources, introduced the "right to buy" campaign to take the better stock out of council control and now has "ring-fenced" council housing to make it work like the market. Councils cannot spend money on housing that does not come from housing (at present many are not allowed to spend money from property sales at all), so all costs must be passed onto rent-payers. Councils are now punished for properties left empty (including squats) and, in order to house those they have legal responsibility for, are forced to weed out squatters and "illegal occupants" (those who bought keys, remained after the legal tenant had died etc.).
Co-operatives are compelled to help out by taking people off their lists and are also made to take on increasing costs. Meanwhile the number of squatters has been swelled by the results of government policies; those evicted for arrears or as illegal occupants, those who bought homes and could not keep up with the mortgage, young people suffering cuts in benefits etc. The screwing of social housing resources was designed to break the increasing unity of the struggle for more resources for more people and instead to impose divisions, by isolating those who could afford to buy out and leaving the rest in competition.
The re-imposition of the market has turned the task of getting housing into work and has reimposed the necessity of work, along with individual "advancement", to keep up with increasing costs. As with other areas, they have imposed their "looking glass world", where we have to run faster and faster to stay in the same place. However, they have failed to get the flexibility they need out of us, as the economy has been unable to create the necessary rewards and those who have played along with the plan are just as likely to end up on the streets.
Working class struggle has taken on the housing market in terms of allocation, cost and quality, and nearly beat it - at least as far as the first two terms are concerned. Capital and central government have responded by leaving local councils with the responsibilities, while moving resources. Now everyone has a right to a piece of pavement at no cost, while quality will cost most of your next 30 years' wages.
Squatting, resisting rent rises, evictions and repossessions are a necessity and obviously the starting point for new struggles to impose our needs. But the battle is now against a state hiding behind the economy, leaving local councils stranded so that their only response to struggle is to run to the government for more powers against the working class.
We have to fight the councils, as landlords, but the state is happy to watch us and the council housing sector sink into the ghetto. Council tenants are still the greatest concentration of the working class, and high interest rates along with the recession have reduced the ability to escape the frying pan into the fire of the market. Their struggles, and ours in general, need to be taken from the council ghettos to the market and the state. Every building is a valid target for our housing needs, as well as the resources necessary to make them fit for human beings. What was it that someone once said about everybody living in their own cathedral?